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Bodies, art and usefulness
I am working on something new and because I’m a superstitious pessimist, I don’t like to call new things books until they are bound and in my hands, until then they’re manuscripts, bad ideas, dark alleys I’m half inclined to run from; in Autoportrait Edouard Leve talks about books being either spacious mansions with room to roam or small dark rooms and I have known and written both, it is too soon to know which this next thing will be; so far it’s been arduous and odd and required me to think harder than I usually do and I want it to be like this otherwise what’s the point, I want that sense of asking what can I do now, but also some days this means my head feels very hot and very separate from my body, which is not unusual for me but is ironic given that I’m thinking about bodies and their materiality; another strange side-effect is that I want to disengage completely from the rest of the world; from the endless declarative utterances of Instagram, from the self promotional parade of Twitter - I’m as guilty as everyone else - and hide in a library or an archive or a dive bar, depending on the time of day, which I have been doing and will hopefully continue to, because there is an order to these places that doesn’t exist in the digital world and something soothing about the physicality of artefacts. The predictability of eventually becoming an artefact myself, the after the fact, the leftover nature of the physical body. I like that.
For this, I have been thinking about bodies, how they can be patched, stitched, sewn. I have been thinking too about extracting our body from situations it’s become attached to, if it’s possible to free it and how. The idea of freedom is a pervasive one. It’s also largely a lie. We’re all born into value systems, whether we want to acknowledge that or not; we aren’t all born free. I have been thinking about the pressure of the western Judeo-Christian narrative on our bodies and the ways we view them, how we see them as sinful or deviant or able or disabled, and how this feeds into how we view art. I say we here because it is easier to pretend I’m not writing about myself when of course I’m writing about myself. For most of my life I’ve been affronted by the fact of my body; by the fact I have to live in it, tend to it, care for it, look after it. I’d rather not, but it remains. But for most of my adult life, I’ve battled the urge to waste my time and my body making art. It is after all, useless. I have tried to fix some sort of value to it. I have said well a book’ll save your life, or a painting will give you comfort, or culture creates common language. And all of those things are true, but using them to create a value system for art is another way of bowing to the prevailing narrative, it’s saying something’s legitimate only if it’s worth something. It struck me some time around dawn this morning that this is where I’ve been going wrong. Or this is one way I’ve been going wrong, there are many others, I’ll keep them for me though. We’re so driven by value and it underpinning all the things we do and make that even art is susceptible. I can’t help but think this is directly result of a centuries long protestant hangover, where everything has to be useful and even time is not to be wasted. If I’ve left the church then why do I still think like this? And so the answer is, I have to stop. Art is valuable for its own sake, it is an expression of our insides on the outside, it is somewhere else to put energy, it is a way of thinking and communicating outside of the accepted norm, it disrupts precisely because it’s not easily quantifiable and some days a pickled shark will be worth a fortune and some days it won’t be and what this tells us is that all value systems are arbitrary, which is why art is so terrifying and also a more persistent calling than any I’ve known.
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